What Works

By Amy Patel

Over these 8 months of service I have tested and tried different methods to best help and reach my kids. If there is one thing that trumps all else, it’s RELATIONSHIPS. RELATIONSHIPS. RELATIONSHIPS. I’ve noticed that unmotivated students, who went from not passing classes to consistently doing their work and actually wanting to, were the ones who I tried to get to know first. By putting in that effort and allowing them to express themselves, they realize that you’re more than just a tutor, but like my students say, their “person” who will go above and beyond to ensure their success.

  • Silent treatment for those extra special kids who drive you insane

Some students for whatever reason want nothing to do with you, even if you’re nurturing and trying to help. And then there’s the disrespect, everyone has their threshold and upon reaching mine, I implement the silent treatment. It’s a win-win situation once they realize you’re not going to cave easily and then they just stop talking altogether to you.  That’s ok.  I have a few like that and it was tough when I had to come to the realization that I can’t help someone if they don’t want to help themselves. And then there are those who take it to heart, apologize, realizing you don’t have time for their indifference and will easily move on to the next student who actually cares about doing well in school.

  • Bribery,no really

 Most students want to feel liked and I’ve noticed that they crave attention from City Year all the time. In my classes, students yell at each other out of jealously when I help someone else or are kicking and screaming when I decided to do pullouts and have to choose only a few. I use these situations to my advantage by rewarding students with pullouts, 1 crazy story from them or me, candy, even walk and talks (who doesn’t want to get out of class for 2 minutes?)

  • Consistency

Our kids are smart (manipulative and devious at times) and can sense if you’re genuine as a person and really care about their future so I know it’s important to make it readily apparent that you are there for a reason and you really want to see them successful. I get excited when I get a grade sheet, most of the time way too excited but my students know that that I am most happy when I see those A’s and B’s.

What most likely doesn’t work:

  • YELLING…unless absolutely necessary
  • Favoritism

My team knows this all too well…I’m the way too nice corps member and this approach for me has worked very well although there were a few challenges along the way. I always try to put myself in the shoes of my students and figure out how I’d want to be supported if I was a 14 year old hormonal teenager. I always offer a listening ear and by now I can tell if something is going on with a kid or they are acting out just to get out of class. I’ve had a lot of intense conversations with my students about the future, relationships, challenges they face at home, self-esteem, or just life in general. I may not be an authoritarian and students may not take my attempts to be strict and firm seriously (neither do I, so we all end up laughing anyways) but I can tell that at the end of the day, my students respect me enough that I don’t have to raise my voice and they know that their successes are my successes.



By: Roosevelt Williams

This is the pledge our After-School Heroes said during Opening Day ceremonies at Linden McKinley STEM Academy. Crystal McDonald and I were sitting around thinking of a pledge for our heroes, and it clicked, “why don’t we modify the City Year pledge?” So after some brainstorming I give you the brand new After-School Heroes Pledge.


I pledge to serve as an After-School Hero

To honor the rules and expectations of After-School Heroes

To complete my homework and engage in civic leadership

To lead as I am following

To be kind and courteous to one another

Realizing that we are all connected

And I succeed only when my fellow Heroes succeed

I pledge to serve to not only make a difference in my community

But be the change in the world I wish to see

I am an After-School hero and I will

Learn, Lead and Transform

Life on the Balcony

By our guest blogger, Jack Wolfe

We have a rule in City Year called “Get to the Balcony, Get on the Dance Floor,” which more or less means that great leaders alternate between action and reflection.   For our purposes, the “dance floor” is in-school service, and the “balcony” is everything else: the after school debriefs, the Idealist’s Journey, training sessions, and the conversations we have with each other between projects.  The Idealist’s Journey workbook states, “The best leaders will make a move on the dance floor, then quickly get to the balcony to observe how their actions influence the situation and then get right back on the dance floor to make their next move.”

Last year, as a first-time Corps Member, I got plenty of “dance floor.”  Oh yes.  I danced my socks off at LMSA.  There was constant action at the school… my 7th grade science classroom was always itching for assistance, whether it took the form of 1-on-1 instruction or larger-scale behavior management.   I didn’t need coffee, or even much sleep: adrenaline was my drug of choice.  I gave that school most of what I had… which didn’t leave a lot for reflection.   My LMSA days were some of the most profound in my life, but they were also isolated, in a way, from the “big picture” of educational issues in America.

This year is very different.  I’m a Project Leader now, which means less school time, and far more opportunities to just sit and think.  And sit.  And think.  I’m in the office five days a week.  I no longer have to chase kids, or raise my voice, or step into fights in desperate attempt to prevent any major facial injuries.   There are times when I’m dancing with rest of the Corps— I go to the afterschool programs every so often, and I spearhead our monthly Saturday programs— but for the most part, I’m stuck on the balcony.  I’m watching and wondering at my school-bound buddies, thinking about how to improve their experiences.

It’s a privilege, in a lot of ways.  I’m just far enough from the “daily grind” of tutoring and mentoring to read extensively about education… I’m submerging myself in the work of Diane Ravitch and Jonathan Kozol and Jeanne Chall.  I’m never too exhausted to remember exactly what I’m doing and why.  But it’s a pretty weird experience, too.  I know our service partners and a lot of the students we work with, so I can relate to our first-year Corps.  But I’m not there with them.   It’s one thing to talk and think about our work— to plan LACY events and service projects— and it’s quite another to actually do it.  It takes serious guts to get up and go to school every day.  For me, the mornings prior to LMSA were filled with an anxious dread, a feeling I didn’t get over until I was with my team and ready to go.  These days, I just get up, and things are peachy keen.

The balance of “balcony” and “dance floor” is difficult to maintain in this organization.  When you’re at school, the kids are your life; when you’re at the office, ideas, plans, and logistics rule.   As someone pretty firmly entrenched in the latter location, I relish the chance to be with our Corps and hear their stories.  My position can be awfully amorphous: some days, I’m scanning a million documents; other days, I’m manning tables for our sponsors; some other days, I help out LMSA with their after-school insanity.  Our first-years define my work: they remind me of our organization’s purpose, as well as what I can do to inspire more effective, more educated, and more involved leaders.

1st, 2nd, and 3rd Snack…

By: Jackie Gibbs

Those who know me are quite familiar with my eating habits, which consist of multiple snacks throughout the entire day. I like to refer to this binge eating as first, second, and third snack. (This does not include breakfast, lunch, and dinner). My high metabolism is accountable for this food behavior, which makes, what some people would consider an abnormal indulgence of food, perfectly normal to me. Bags of white, cheddar cheetos, mini carrots with ranch dip, wild berry, Go-Gurt sticks, cucumber and tomato salads with lots of feta cheese, crunchy cinnamon granola bars, bottles of chocolate milk and leftover spaghetti from the night before are collective, common edibles that can be found in my carry on mini mart that I haul around everyday. The whole eight spoons and two forks that I find compacted at the bottom of my twenty-pound book bag at the end of each week are the remains of what becomes a pile up of my daily routine. With a good percentage of my day being spent with food, it’s no wonder that during snack time is when I find myself immersed in some of the most unique, but meaningful conversations…conversations started by food.

Usually, one of my colleagues and I will have a snack in the teacher’s lounge before our team, tutor session in the library, but on this particular day the urge for first snack came at a different time, which collided with the art teacher’s lunch. As we sat devouring some sushi, we noticed the somber mood of the art teacher and began to chat with him. He let out a sigh and said, “This school makes me feel very sad sometimes”. We began pouring out our frustrations with each other and finding a connection through our shared feelings. We talked of the wonderful opportunities that many students will never see because they simply don’t care anymore and also of the defeat we feel in the classroom when they don’t try. He said, “I understand City Year and what you are saying is exactly right because we all are doing the same thing”.

Lunchtime is barely over as I reach for second snack. The remaining smells of my Hawaiian chicken with portabella mushrooms and pesto noodles must have still been lingering through the air because they brought one of Linden McKinley’s staff members on a hot trail to my eating domain. Amazed that my meal was homemade from the night before, he felt inclined to leave me with some wisdom. He told me that if I stood outside of a football camp with a sign saying, “I can cook” then I would be set. Our conversation of food led into his curiosity about City Year and he began to question what I thought of LMSA and whether or not my feelings about education have changed after working in this school. He left me with these words, “If you can master this, then you can take on anything”.

There is usually a bag of Laffy Taffy stashed away in my bag for rewarding times of displayed excellence or of course to substitute for third snack. On my round through the halls I noticed one of my students slouched outside our classroom with tears strolling down her cheeks. When I asked what was wrong I got no reply. Well, it was Laffy Taffy that broke the ice. After a few bursts of grape and banana flavor and a couple of corny jokes, I was able to find out that unhealthy rumors about family members had planted themselves through the halls and this is what had upset her. As we walked, we talked about controlling our hurt and anger and learning to handle situations like these in a respectful manner. Back in front of the classroom, before I saw her off she said, “City Year, you made me feel a little happier today”.

Miss Mac’s Words of Wisdom

Violence Only Begets More Violence

By: Crystal Mcdonald 

 A couple of weeks ago I was put in a situation in which I could have acted or rather reacted in a way that would have been typical of me, but I challenged my own nature and did something new.  Now this was a hard task because I felt I was allowing myself to be disrespected and belittled, especially because the incident that occurred was among a group of peers.  Initially I thought to myself, “whoa…Crys, you just let yourself be played and you know that everybody is thinking and saying the same thing.”  I was mad and I wanted to go back and make it clear for everyone that that certainly was not the case.  However, as I thought about the issue  I began to ask the questions,  “for what and who really cares?”

 It was then that I reflected on my students in the high school.  Everyone has an image and feel it is a necessity to protect it.  I realized the internal struggle to say something or just let it go.  I could relate to the pressure to prove to others just who you are, but in reality, who others think you are and the image you uphold are not the essential items that determine your character.  It is not the things you say, but the absence of action that say a lot about who you are.  That is not to say that saying nothing is always the correct path, but the thought behind your reasoning is what matters most.  Thinking before I act was something I had to learn and am continually adapting; it is a skill I have become most proud of.

There are always consequences for every action and as in poker, you have to know when to fold and when to raise.  It is this trait that I wish my students to understand and practice.  It is not about what others think of you but what you think of yourself because however you feel is what you display and that is where character comes into play.  If your image is merely a façade, others will notice your transparency and it will eventually fade away or become exposed.  You see character is how you live life when no one is looking.  In the words of Martin Luther King, “violence only begets violence” and in homage to my Southern roots, I end with a great adage I heard referenced daily; “There’s always more than one way to skin a cat.”